The vaccine gap between rich and poor has become severe. The pace of vaccination among 37 developed countries, 152 developing countries and 46 leased developed countries shows the highest form of vaccine divide.
Bangladesh has so far inoculated less than 3 percent of the country's 163 million people after starting a nationwide vaccination drive on 7 February this year, administering Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SII). Earlier, Bangladesh inked a pact with the SII on 13 December 2020 to buy 30 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca shots paying about Tk 13 billion (Tk 1,300 crore) in advance.
Under the deal, Bangladesh was to receive 5 million doses of vaccines per month. But SII after supplying 7 million of the contracted 30 million doses of vaccine in two installments has stopped exporting on the excuse of a government ban. Indian government gave 3.3 million vaccines as a gift but could not provide the fair share as per contract or even did not back the money. China gave 1.1 million Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines as a gift. The United States (US) has contributed 1.06 lakh doses of the Pfizer vaccine as gift and promised to provide 2.5 million doses of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine via Gavi (global vaccine alliance) soon.
Learning from the mistakes from the deal with India, Bangladesh initiated imports from China and Russia while requesting the UK, US, Canada, and Australia for help. With positive nod from China and Russia, Bangladesh has been negotiating with China to purchase 15 million doses of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine and 5 million doses of Sputnik COVID vaccine with no headway so far. Over complacency and flattery on Covid control by some ministers coupled with indecision to adopt the doctrine of multilateralism instead of bilateralism sparks questions on diplomatic capability in the global landscape of complex diplomacy.
Corona pandemic is an opportunity for global leaders to reshape the world with the sense of togetherness forgetting the persisting divide. But the growing polarisation of top powers is making the world more individualistic than collective
However, procuring vaccines through bilateral deals by most developing and all least developed countries (LDC) is hindered when the issues of dominance regarding power dynamics, global and regional politics come to the forefront, impacting vaccine deal and supply. Rich countries with affluence-power nexus are resorting to geopolitical preferences and hoarding more vaccines than necessary keeping their international lip service solidarity image in question. Seven ultra rich countries group like G7 are donating Covid-19 vaccines to other developing and least developing countries and promising to donate more after sharp cost-benefit analysis and sensing comparative advantage of geopolitics.
Sometimes, major crises help people to come together for common well-being. Corona pandemic is an opportunity for global leaders to reshape the world with the sense of togetherness forgetting the persisting divide. But the growing polarisation of top powers is making the world more individualistic than collective. The world should treat Covid vaccine as a public good and the know-how and technological instruments should be open to all countries with the ability to produce more vaccines reducing the gaps.
With the recommendation of rich countries, the right to health was articulated as a basic human right under the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO). Now, access to equitably adequate coronavirus vaccines is a core aspect of the right to health. The obligation and cooperation of elite capitalist and socialist countries under the international human rights instruments especially under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 1966 can help ensuring certain critical rights including right to health of less privileged countries for equitable access to life-saving Covid-19 vaccine.
The world should come to a consensus to reconsider the complexity of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) with one size fits all approach to remove patent barrier for developing countries so that they can produce adequate Covid vaccines paving the way for vaccine justice.
* Emdadul Haque is Dhaka based Independent Human Rights Researcher and Freelance Contributor. He can be reached by [email protected] and Twitter @emdadlaw